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How to Maximize Creativity so You Can Achieve Your Goals

Michelle Hunter by Michelle Hunter

The three things you must protect as you grow your creative business.

maximize creativity

Increasingly, my days are filled with non-creative work. I manage my team- responding to questions, leading meetings, and sharing guidance as they work to keep business operations moving smoothly. Some days I get bogged down in administrative work and move through the day producing little of creative value. Yet, creativity is the foundation of my company and I believe strongly that maximizing my own creativity is the most effective way to achieve my professional goals.

Conventional wisdom would indicate that this is a problem related to scale. According to the experts, freelancers and solopreneurs have a greater ability to be flexible, agile, and creative. As a business grows, creativity is often squashed under the weight of growing operational systems. Sounds logical… but honestly, this argument has never resonated with me.

Sure, there are real benefits to small, efficient organizations. I used to run one… I get it. When I was the only one fulfilling on promised work, connecting with clients, and managing my financial systems, I was able to pivot quickly and respond to small client requests or new opportunities with relative ease. But, I also spent a larger amount of time than I would like to admit in polite company working on business operations. I sacrificed my early mornings, evenings, and much of my weekend time to tasks now handled by my team.

I wasn’t necessarily more creative, but I was certainly tired. I guess that counts for something.

In my opinion, the problem of waning creativity isn’t related to business size. Rather, it is an indication of mindset, priority, and the choices we make as business owners and leaders. As I’ve shifted my priorities and intentionally made choices that felt counterintuitive at first, my creative energy has expanded exponentially.

In a perfect world, I would have discovered the three points I’m about to share with you through research and growth in my own personal leadership ability. I’m not actually quite that self-aware. It took a significant health crisis in 2016 to shift my priorities radically. Not the easiest way to spark change… I’m sharing this info with you in the hopes that you’ll change a little more gracefully.

Maximize creativity by protecting your health.

In my college psychology course (hello core requirements), I learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I’m by no means an expert, so I’m not going to attempt to quote this work accurately. Instead, I’m just going to paraphrase a bit and share the understanding I retained from my Freshman year.

Physical needs such as food, shelter, and safety must be met before higher mental work can happen. In other words, creativity flows out of a sense of well-being created inside our circumstances and our bodies.

This is why it’s difficult to think creatively when you’re hungry, cold, or in pain. Your attention shifts from your work to a drive to meet the physical need you’re experiencing. This is a good thing… it helps us prioritize our attention in a way that keeps us alive and thriving.

Key point :: When your health suffers, so does your creative energy.  

Okay, you’ve likely heard this before from a variety of sources, including your family doctor and possibly a trusted business coach. You instinctively know it’s true. But have you aligned your life in a way that makes health a priority?

When the workload increases, do you…

  • Cut into your regular sleep schedule in order to meet a deadline?
  • Skip meals and load up on caffeine and sugar to stay energized?
  • Limit (or eliminate) physical activity so you can get more done?

You’re not alone. A healthy lifestyle is often sacrificed to accommodate a busy schedule. As your business grows and your workload increases, the temptation is strong to bypass habits like going to the gym, getting to bed at a reasonable hour, and eating a healthy lunch midday. We justify this by telling ourselves it’s only for a season… but before we realize it, months build on one another and we’re stuck in a cycle of unhealthy living and fatigue.

How can you break the cycle? Make your health a top priority in your calendar. Notice I’m talking about your time, not your mind. It is relatively easy to nod your head and agree that health is important. It’s another thing entirely to schedule a workout or actually take a lunch break to get something fresh rather than whatever is left in the breakroom or available from your car as you run business-related errands.

Schedule time to exercise. Schedule a meal planning/food prep session. Take your vitamins, see your doctor regularly, and go to bed on time. In just a few weeks you’ll notice the creativity monkey comes to visit you more often. You’ll feel more productive because you’ll actually be more creative and energized.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try and journal to track your results. Go to my business FB page and tag me to start a conversation about your experience. Consider this a dare…

Maximize creativity by protecting your balance.

We are not machines, and yet our creativity is like a machine in our businesses. As a writer and strategist, I use creativity to solve problems, communicate ideas, and engage audiences. Your work might not be traditionally considered “creative” but creativity drives your business too.

Creativity is required to…  

  • Think about the future and set a strategic vision for your company and your team.
  • Resolve client issues, market effectively, and solve operational problems.
  • Play schedule tetris and fit your responsibilities into your calendar effectively.

Your business is powered by creativity which requires fuel and regular maintenance much like any other machine. What keeps your creativity humming along smoothly? The proper balance of inputs such as laughter, play, imagination, and meaning. These are the factors that energize and lubricate your creativity so you can achieve more as you work.

Do you take time to play? When was the last time you laughed with a group of close friends or used your imagination to visualize something tangible like a new garden or a vacation you’d enjoy? How do you connect meaning to your life and work? Activities like these have a direct tie to your creative energy.

I challenge you to create balance in your life. Explore ways to express your spirituality or connect with a religious group that you find meaningful. Make time to play with a child- your own or one you know through family or friend relationships. Identify activities you enjoy that have nothing to do with work… and intentionally spend time enjoying them.

Personally, I love reading fiction. I also enjoy knitting, crocheting, and quilting. These are my go-to activities when my life feels out of balance or my creative energy is waning a bit. Quiet moments spent reading a good mystery or working on a challenging knitting pattern restore my energy and feed my soul.

Most weekends also involve playing with my grandsons, but you don’t want to get me started talking about them… trust me.

Maximize creativity by protecting your focus.

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about focus- my ability to block out the noises and interruptions around me and dive deeply into the task at hand. Just like many others, I work in an environment where focus can be difficult to find. People come into my office to chat with me, the phone rings, the email pings and I get pulled away from whatever I’m working on to pay attention to someone else’s need or request.

Traditional productivity advice is full of strategies for minimizing distractions like these, and I use many of them successfully. I shut the door to my office, block time in my schedule, and turn off notifications on my phone. I block time for creative work in my calendar and make sure others know I’m busy during those periods. I use quiet background music as a sound barrier and set a timer so I can work in sprints and move around a bit during break times.

Great tactics, but they don’t address my most frequent focus issue- inner resistance.

Regardless of what I might complain about to colleagues, the biggest factor in my lack of focus is my own propensity to seek entertainment and distraction. I struggle with what I call inner resistance whenever I’m doing important work that challenges me. It’s a subtle form of self-sabotage that I’m currently working on mastering.

Maybe you’ve felt this in your own life and work. For me, it’s the sudden desire to check my email when I’m writing a particularly challenging paragraph. It is the temptation to procrastinate when a big project feels heavy or challenging. Those business books I’ve been planning to read for months now? Important work is often just what’s needed to make a book on marketing seem incredibly appealing.

Maximizing creativity means reigning in my own need to distract myself. How do I do this? I schedule time for work like this (see the time block suggestion above) and then I remind myself of the meaningful nature of the work. I even identify a reward and promise it to myself… maybe a slightly longer lunch or a few minutes doing something non-work related that I enjoy. In other words, I speak to my inner preschooler (the one who wants to resist and avoid) and I persuade her to get to work.

Here’s the thing… the best cure for inner resistance is action. I’ve found that once I actually get started, I am drawn into the work and my creative energy takes over. So, I protect my focus by building rituals and habits around actually getting started. I find those rituals to be most effective in protecting my focus and getting me to a place of deep, creative work.

Creativity is your most valuable resource as a leader.

Regardless of your industry or your position, creativity is the most valuable asset you bring to your work. It is the insight and perspective that sets you apart from your colleagues and drives you forward to success. Don’t sacrifice your creativity in order to maintain an artificial standard of productivity you have in your head. Instead, take intentional action to protect the aspects of your life which fuel your creativity. In doing so, you’ll maximize your effectiveness and enjoyment of your work.

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